Movie Review: 'Traffik'
Exploitation Thriller Wastes Paula Patton and Omar Epps
Traffik stars Paula Patton and Omar Epps as Brea and John, a couple on the cusp of an engagement. As they head off for a romantic weekend at a far off mansion owned by their friend Darren (Laz Alonso) and his girlfriend Malia (Roselyn Sanchez), it appears quite certain that John will be popping the question, especially after he gifts the birthday girl, Brea, a 1969 Charger that he built himself.
Once on the road for their romantic getaway, the couple makes a stop at a truck stop where each has an uncomfortable encounter. First, John is assailed by a group of bikers who bully him about his fancy car and attractive girlfriend. Then, while Brea is inside the station ladies room, she meets a woman who looks as if she’d been assaulted. The woman is forcefully taken away by one of the bikers as Brea and John try and move on with their weekend.
Things won’t be that simple, however, as Darren has decided to crash the romantic weekend with Malia in tow. That, however, proves to be the least of Brea and John’s problems when Brea discovers a satellite phone tucked inside her purse. The phone clearly belonged to the woman from the ladies room who also gave Brea a cryptic message that is the key to the secrets inside the phone.
The first 45 minutes of Traffik isn’t too bad. As you just read in my description, the film builds intrigue quickly and efficiently with the intensity of the revelations gaining traction throughout. Sadly however, I must report that the intensity wears out once the bikers return to the story and the film turns from thriller to exploitation movie and from character driven drama to a series of clichéd action scenes.
It’s a shame that writer-director Deon Taylor chose to rely on overly familiar tropes because Patton, Epps, Alonzo, and Sanchez actually had a pretty good thing going before it all broke down into the overly familiar. Instead of sticking with the tension inside the house, we are forced to suffer people running through forests from one narrow escape to the next because the film isn’t clever enough to come up with anything more challenging or interesting.
Then there is the supposed point of Traffik, a polemical drama about the issue of Sex Trafficking. I appreciate the noble intent that was likely in the hearts of the producers who made Traffik, but couching this serious issue in this rather inane action movie does a disservice to the message. Director Taylor shoots the scenes involving the trafficking in a fashion that is exploitative rather than revealing.
I get the desire to honestly portray the dark corners of the world of Trafficking, but the film isn’t serious enough to bear the weight of the issue. The first 25 to 30 minutes of the movie is a straight up romance that slowly devolves into a thriller and then, when the trafficking plot is introduced, it feels tacked on as a way of moving the story along. It feels like someone added the trafficking plot to the movie to give it more weight beyond just being a couple in danger thriller.
Then there is the general clumsiness of Traffik. One character in the film is using cocaine and hiding it from the rest of the group. The cocaine is introduced and then almost entirely forgotten about as the movie moves deeper into the trafficking subplot. The structure of the film is relatively solid and I did like the way the film switched gears from romance to thriller, but that also begins to fail late as the filmmakers begin relying on thriller tropes to get to the film’s forgettable, borderline silly conclusion.